Teaching & Learning & Feeling

Last week, I attended the Teaching & Learning conference, held here in D.C. and put on by the National Board of Professional Standards of Teaching (NBPTS). It was three days of back-to-back sessions and plenaries, during which I took half a legal pad’s worth of notes. I plan on writing a more fact-filled post about what I learned, but I feel compelled to write about the emotions I experienced first. Because I’m a woman and that’s what we do. While eating chocolate. So?

1. Anticipation: Although I’ve attended a handful of in-state conferences in the last four years, this was my first national conference in a long time. Also, my attendance has been primarily limited to English teachers’ conferences, so I was pretty psyched about being among fellow NBCTs from all subject areas and levels. Also, we don’t get a whole lot of men at ELA events, so hooray for people with Y chromosomes and their perspectives on education!

2. Inspired: One of the best things about conferences is their ability to emotionally move people. There’s something about being surrounded by your own kind, talking the same language, and sharing the same passions that reminds you of your love for the profession. Not to mention the words of wisdom from the big names: James McPherson, Martin Luther King, III, Ken Burns, and Sec. Arne Duncan. These people believe in teachers, and they believe in the importance of public education as a pillar of American prosperity. To have these guys on your team – well, it’s bound to make you feel good.

3. Conflicted: I would never change my decision to stay home with my kids the last four years. But damn, it’s hard to watch other people lead initiatives I’ve believed in for years, or to hear about teachers serving as ambassadors and fellows, or even to see the ways in which other teachers are making an impact on students right now. I did the math and calculated that I could have influenced 600 kids by staying in the classroom as opposed to staying at home. But how can I measure what influence would have been lost on my own two kids had I not been with them? It’s an impossible math and impossibly difficult for women (and more commonly, men) to choose – and that’s if you’re lucky enough to even have a choice. Nobody can have it all; to say otherwise is to ignore (or be ignorant of) the complexities of life. I know this truth, yet I constantly still feel the tug-of-war between domestic and professional, family and self, the werewolf or the vampire. Wait, I’ve got a call coming in – its a million women from 3rd world countries calling to tell me to shut the hell up. Moving on…

4. Called-to-action: I firmly believe that if someone had piped in “Do You Hear the People Sing” from the Les Miserable soundtrack, there may very well have been a spontaneous revolution. Desks would have been piled up to form a barricade, bottles would have been raised for days gone by, and then Jean Valjean (re: Ron Thorpe) would have led us all up the stairs of Congress to declare our freedom from high-stakes testing. Alas, a historical reenactment did not occur; however, a steady drum beat for change could be felt all three days. If a conference can have a theme, this one was “Teachers should be the leaders of their own profession, which will thereby enhance the profession as a whole.” It was invigorating to hear so many teachers discuss the ways in which they are taking on leadership positions in their schools or districts while still remaining in the classroom at some capacity. The Teach to Lead initiative, organized by the U.S. Department of Education and its Teaching Ambassadors (whom I am simultaneously jealous of, proud of, and support), is the most promising step I’ve seen in a long time toward getting educators back in the business of education reform. Sec. Duncan encouraged attendees to “make their own seat at the table,” and from what I can tell, people are trying to follow his advice.

5. Jealous: Anyone who says they don’t feel jealous of National or State Teachers of the Year is a stone cold liar.

6. Reassured: I attended a session about blogging featuring a panel of five veteran and popular education bloggers. I learned a lot from the session, but the most important moment for me happened in the hallway afterward. I happened to run into Ray Salazar, a teacher from Chicago and one of the panelists. I thanked him for a great session, and he asked me about my own blogging experience. I told him about TeacherSoup and about my journey in finding a voice online and a direction for the blog. I revealed my personal angst in wanting to be a voice in education and for teachers, but feeling a lack of authority because I haven’t been in the classroom for a few years. Here’s Ray’s reply, and why I will be forever grateful that men are different from women: “You’ve got to get over that.” My response: to tear up like I was in a made-for-TV-movie moment. Ray backed up the logic of his statement by reassuring me that I’ve got the years of experience and I also have time to reflect on my time in the classroom. We talked about ideas for how my blog could focus on the “whole teacher,” since we spend so much of our time focusing on the “whole child” everyday – usually at the expense of our own energy and time. “You’re a caregiver,” he said. And I had to agree. Ray is obviously a caregiver too, and his words and advice will stay with me as I continue to blog, to learn, to give care, and to teach.